Chris Gall, 45, graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. He worked as art director for Nordenssonn/Lynn ad agency for 4 1/2 years before turning to freelancing. Since then, his work has been found in Time, People, GQ, Boys Life, Business Week, The New York Times and The Washington Post. His first children’s book, America the Beautiful, is an illustrated version of poem written by Katherine Lee Bates, one of Gall’s distant relatives. His second book, Dear Fish, is one of five finalists for the Borders Original Voices award in the children’s picture book category.
Are you a native of Tucson?
I’ve been here for 26 years, so not exactly, but sort of. I lived in a lot of different places when I was younger. My family moved around a lot. I lived in Switzerland, I lived in Pittsburgh, Boston, born in Cleveland, moved to Phoenix as a teenager, went to high school there and then came down here to go to college.
How did you come to be involved with children’s books?
My primary occupation since 1989 was creating illustrations for everything from book covers to magazines, advertising campaigns, billboards. Eventually, I started to feel like I wanted to do something a little bit more substantial, something less commercial, something that would have a longer legacy, and so illustrating children’s books seemed like an interesting thing to try. Not an easy one to try, even with all the things I had done before in publishing. It’s a difficult thing to get a book published at all, and I decided I wanted to be an illustrator and a writer. I had done a lot of writing when I was in high school and grade school, so it was something I was always interested in, so I decided to put the two together and that’s how I got there, in a nutshell.
And what have you discovered about the book business?
It is a very, very difficult business. I would liken it to wanting to be a popular musician or a popular actor. Many, many people are trying and it’s very difficult to break out of the pack and support yourself, or become the J.K. Rowlings or the Chris Van Allsburgs of the world. That’s the big challenge. Everybody wants that, but not everybody can have that, so there’s many challenges. The creating part of it is probably the least of it, ironically. I would say what happens after you create your book and how it gets marketed or sold or how you promote it, how you get people to notice it – that’s really where the challenge lies.
Have you been involved in the marketing?
Yes, I have. If you are an author that’s not a top-list author, someone who’s selling hundreds of thousands of copies, marketing is pretty much up to you; in fact, it’s probably all up to you. So, yes, I have been doing a lot of PR, and I actually spend a certain amount of money on each book for PR. It’s not wise to spend gobs of money because the return is really uncertain, but it is important that people know about your book, because if they don’t know about it, they are not going to buy it anyway, regardless if you’re from a major publisher, which I am, but even having said that, there are still thousands of titles that get released every season.
Do you have what you might call a philosophy of business?
My philosophy of business is that the art world, be it the art world or the creative world, is every bit as much a business as the ball-bearing world. That’s my philosophy. I pretty much treat my art career as if I was a ball-bearing manufacturer. It doesn’t sound very artistic, but if you step away from the creativity and the personal nature of creating something that is yours, step back from it and look at it in the cold light of business, you have a much better chance of being successful. – Mark Zepezauer